Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All I want for Christmas is a Florida Black Bear

Here is a Florida Black Bear that visited us for Christmas this year. I'm not sure, but he might be the bear that found our empty garbage cans earlier this week and he came back to check on them. This time, I wised up and made sure the cans were put away properly in the garage. Nothing makes me madder on the news than to see people leave their trash out and then call wildlife control because there is a bear "threatening" them.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Who... or what, exactly, is Squirt in Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus

"Just exactly WHAT is Squirt?"

That is the most asked question I get from young readers of Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus. That is usually followed by "I want him."

They know he only makes a single noise (Squeak!) They know he voraciously eats any food that he crawls over. He has a particular fondness for candy and snacks.

Many have tried to draw him:


I love this version

Well, for the first time on the internet, here is the real Squirt:

Squirt is an echinoid. This picture is exactly what he and the thousands of other echinoids in Olivia Brophie look like. He is a kind of sea urchin, related to the sea biscuits and sand dollars.

If you read the book carefully, you know Squirt's mouth is on his bottom. Here is a picture of Squirt's mouth:

Now, for the best part. You can find your very own Squirt in Florida! You just have to be a bit adventerous. Fossilized echinoids can be found in springs and spring runs in Florida. You need a snorkel and mask. You need some patience as you scan the river bottoms for echinoids. Some days you might not find anything. Some days, you might also find other fossils such as shark's teeth, alligator teeth, armadillo scales, and manatee teeth.  I have a big collection of fossils I've found in Florida springs. One day, I'll post them so you can see. But Squirt is my favorite. That is why I made him into a character in Olivia Brophie.

Fossils exist in Florida because the entire state is built upon a huge platform of limestone. Limestone grows on the ocean floor, the result of countless shells and creatures who died in the past and were pressed together by pressure. Some of the shells weren't crushed. Teeth were too strong to be crushed too, that's why you can find lots of sharks teeth in Florida.

And yes, Squirt will be in Book #2. In fact, he travels farther than any echinoid in the history of the world in Book #2.  He even saves Olivia!

Here he is on a copy of the book so you can see how big he is:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Florida Black Bear

It's that time of year again. The black bears in the Florida scrub are investigating every interesting sight and smell as they continue fattening up for some winter lethargy.

Today, this little feller took a swim in the goldfish pond.

Investigated the trash bin that I hadn't put away yet. Please make sure you put your garbage away if you live in bear country...

And finally gave up when he only found two empty soda cans.

Check out these blog posts for more Florida black bears in my yard!




florida black bear

Long-legged Fly

Long-legged fly on a hibiscus leaf

Everyone has seen these tiny flies scooting and zipping around on top of large leaves. They are quite beautiful up close and they come in all sorts of colors. They are also predators, looking for even smaller creatures to eat. I find their interactions to be really fun to watch if you can follow their quick movements with your eyes.

I didn't take this picture, but it shows you some of the color variation in long-legged flies

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Two-Lined Walkingsticks (Anisomorpha buprestoides)

Here are some closeups of a female two-lined walkingstick. This time of year, these quintessential Florida scrub inscects are slowing down. During warm days, they are busy digging holes and laying eggs. During cold days like today, they don't do much of anything. Eventually, the cold will kill her and we'll have to wait until next summer for more walkingsticks.

Here are several articles I've written about one of my favorite animals in the Florida scrub.


Hurricanes and Walkingsticks, from The Lightning Forest

Friday, November 16, 2012

Strong female character for kids

You want a strong female character for your daughters and sons to read in middle-grades? Check out this compilation of reviews from some of the readers of Olivia Brophie. It is amazing how many children are inspired by Olivia's struggles and bravery.  I did fix some of the spelling!

Thank you for everything, every single thing that you have done for us. Now I feel like I am the smartest person in the world. I feel like that because I did not know a lot of things that you said. It made a big change in my class and my heart. But now the Book Fair is closed I am sad because I was going to buy the book. It was going to be a big change.

I like your book because it has a lot of adventure. My favorite chapter is 16 because I did not know that the cochineal insect live on the cactus. I want to be a scientist like you. Thank you so much for coming to our school.


My favorite thing about your book was that I could relate to so many things Olivia felt. Fear, courage, anger, disappointment, and I had been in so many similar situations as Olivia. You made an amazing book and I think the world should get a chance to read it.


My favorite character is Olivia because she is very brave and she has powers with her necklace. I don’t think you could ever write a bad book. I wonder what your next book will be about.


Thank you for coming to my school. It was very nice to meet you. I like your book because it had so much fun words and you used your surroundings. I can’t wait to find out what happened to Aunt and Uncle in the story. Oh, and thank you for that comment on my vest.


My favorite character is Olivia because she is brave and strong.


Thank you for visiting our school. You are so cool. I want you to visit again. I want to see you in person again so you can tell me about your life. My favorite character is Gnat. He is so cool. I wish he was real.


My favorite part is when you let us hold Squirt.


Now I’m really interested in the second book to come out and read it. Here at our school, we have a huge selection of books, so when I get the second book I will donate it to the library so everyone can enjoy it.  Your partner in reading, Andy


Thank you for visiting our school. Thank you for bringing Squirt. He was really cool. Thanks for signing my reading airplane. My favorite part of the book was her floating up in the air and lost in the underground city. Your book is awesome.


I was way happy that you came to our school. I never met an author before.


Thank you for coming to our school. My favorite part was when you showed us the pictures of the bears and showing us Squirt. It was cool.


I hope I can meet you again some day. I love the part where Olivia had the bear help her.

Thank you for sharing how you wrote Olivia Brophie and how you became interested in writing. By the way, I think you are a fantastic author. I think Olivia is a very interesting character and also very brave. You are inspiring.

My favorite character is Olivia because she is different from the other kids. Again, thank you.

I wish I could keep a Squirt.

I absolutely loved your book and it was a great idea to have the bears that Olivia rides on. You are my favorite author and I can’t wait to read your next book.

Well taught
Really cool
It is extraordinary that you came to my school
Totally awesome
Excellent at writing

I think Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus is by far my favorite book. I really like the animals because you went into the scrub and found some animals and added them into your book.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another beautiful sunrise in the Florida scrub

We see a lot of sunrise and sunset pictures from the Florida beaches. Why not one from the oldest beaches in the state? During historical periods of high sea-levels, the scrub forests were prime ocean front property.  What were once beach dunes are now the deep white sands that form the foundation of the magical Florida scrub.

Monday, November 5, 2012

President's Book Award for Olivia Brophie

Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus has won a President's Book Award silver medal. What a fun package to open in the mail this evening!

Also in the package were 500 neatly rolled silver stickers to go on the front covers.

Learn more about Florida Publishers Association and the other 2012 winners.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Language Arts Reading as a Springboard to Science Education

Here is the presentation I gave to the 2012 Florida Association of Science Teachers Conference with Reed Bowman from Archbold Biological Station.   (I apologize, but it seems that Slideshare is not very consistent on delivering these slides. Reloading sometimes helps. I will look for a new delivery method but in the meantime, if you want a copy of the presentation, please email me at crtozier@gmail.com)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New York Movie by Hopper, Poem and Painting

I've always loved Hopper's paintings. My book A Little Book of Light History published by Yellowjacket Press, contains eight ekphrastic poems based on Hopper paintings. Recently, on a trip to New York City, I was able to finally see a Hopper in person. The Museum of Modern Art had "New York Movie" in a little out of the way hallway. Here is me by the painting, and the poem it inspired below.


New York Movie, Hopper 1939

Merle Oberon will soon turn her head
tearfully toward the ghastly moors.
The gauzy drapes blow like lovers
who embrace but hardly notice the other’s tears.
Olivier rests his face in sobs.
He will marry marry and marry
before the credits roll
and we return to our lives.
There are no exits.
A woman hides in the alcove
for the second show.
There are only four types of light:
Red, yellow, green,
the one missing in her eyes.


originally published in Washington Square Winter/Spring 2011

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Informal Blended Curriculum for Florida Middle Grade - Science and Language Arts

This year, I've partnered with the teachers at Ivy Hawn School for the Arts in Lake Helen, Florida to prototype an informal blended curriculum approach for my middle grade fantasy novel, Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus. Ivy Hawn's objective was to teach the language arts curriculum using Olivia Brophie and then use the novel as context for further science education. If you have seen the rest of my blog, you know that this means learning more about the Florida scrub. 
My involvement with Ivy Hawn allowed the added advantage of having an author interacting directly with students. We talked quite a bit about what it is like to be an author and the publishing process. I led the students on specific language arts lessons and gave an author's perspective. Finally, I participated in the science curriculum. That is a powerful combination!  I am very proud of how effective Olivia Brophie is in tying all of these threads together into an experience that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Here is a very brief overview of the plan we followed at Ivy Hawn. I will continue to flesh this out with more details. I will be posting the standards and full lesson plans that Ivy Hawn used in the coming weeks. A much more formal curriculum is in the works as I partner with Archbold Biological Station.
All 7th and 8th grade students started reading Olivia Brophie.
1)   Three chapters in, I visited Ivy Hawn and discussed POV, omniscience, and narrator reliability. We talked about how these concepts relate to the book. More importantly, I helped them understand how I as the author made decisions on what POV I used. How did I find Olivia's voice?
2)   Ivy Hawn teachers guided students through reading the remainder of the book, discussing issues such as character development, setting, vocabulary, etc. Olivia Brophie became the vehicle for teaching the literary arts as implemented by Ivy Hawn.
3)   The class emailed me questions through the teacher. I answered those questions, and directed them to various web resources that would complete their understanding. For example, there are giant tardigrades in the book. Giant tardigrades don't exist in the real world of course, but real tardigrades are incredibly interesting. I sent them a link to my blog post about tardigrades and a video of tardigrade research. They also wanted to know more about echinoids and anaspideans. They asked questions about the writing process and why I wrote things the way I did.
4)   Once students completed reading the book, they were tasked to develop a research paper on the topic of their choice. I will share some of these reports in future blogs.
5)    Finally, I joined the students on a field trip to Lyonia Preserve in Deltona, Florida where we participated in programs related to the Florida scrub and the aquifer. I will post a blog about Lyonia itself which I found to be an excellent educational resource in the area. Our Lyonia program consisted of four parts:
A 30 minute nature hike led by a guide. The students got to see several real animals and plants that are featured in Olivia Brophie. Scrub jays, gopher tortoises, lyonia trees, cochineal bugs, and scrub oaks all can be found in the book and are readily available at Lyonia.
A 30 minute interactive experience on the Floridan Aquifer.
Scrub Jeopardy!
And finally, a scavenger hunt using Lyonia's awesome educational exhibits.
In retrospect, I wish that I had personally led the students on a hike where we would read short passages from the book and then discuss the real version in the scrub. In other words, be more explicit about the connections from the book.
Again, this is an informal approach to the blended curriculum. I am currently working on a much more specific and fully implemented curriculum with Archbold Biological Station in Lake Wales. That curriculum will be complete with science experiements and lessons.  The Archbold curriculum will be a full step-by-step approach that includes objectives and CCS.
But I also found this informal approach to be very effective. The students were very engaged in the process and asked great questions. The students who loved reading were suddenly very interested in science. The science students were now enjoying reading a fun fantasy novel. One boy said that this was the first book he had ever ready from beginning to end.
I believe students have a greater appreciation for the unique scrub ecosystem because of this blended approach. The interaction with the scrub also helped make the language arts curriculum come alive. The other advantage of the informal curriculum is that it can be tailored to your classroom's specific objectives and needs.
And yes, I would love to discuss this with you further if you are interested in a program like this at your school. My time is free. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Turret Arch in Times Square

While visiting New York City recently, I was suprised to see a picture of Turret Arch on a giant LED screen in Times Square.

The picture was part of a photo montage of southwestern landscapes. Surrounded by millions of dollars worth of advertising and the thousands of visitors who came here to gawk at the advertising, I'm still not sure what the photos are saying in this context. Alone, they were beautiful of course. But in Times Square do they remind us of authentic experience in a monetized world,  or do they commodify those experiences?

Here is Turret Arch as viewed through North Window Arch from our visit to Arches National Park last year. Arches are so amazing and alien in their own right, that to call them natural only seems technically correct. There is no other place like it. This park sits on top of a wildly exposed plateau. The elaborate stone arches connect us to the sky and a bewildering sense of time.
Strange lights.
Frames and displays.
Times Square is free.
Arches National Park costs $25 per car.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


There are many strange creatures in Junonia, the underground world beneath Florida in Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus.  None are weirder than the giant tardigrades. Several readers have attempted to draw tardigrades based on their reading of the book.


Whatever they imagine, there is no doubt that giant tardigrades are ruthless predators. Their toothless mouths and giant clear bodies prowl the tunnels and vast underground lakes of Junonia looking for echinoids to swallow whole.
Many readers are surprised to learn that tardigrades are actually real animals and they are even weirder in real life than they are in the book!
Tardigrades are tiny, no more than a millimeter in length. They have eight legs, eight feet with claws, a head, and a body that makes them look like tiny bears.  This is why they are often called water bears. They are unlike any other animal that we know!  They can survive in extreme conditions, even in outer space, which has caused some to speculate that they arrived on Earth by riding asteroids from another planet.
Even better, there are almost certainly tardigrades in your backyard. There are still countless discoveries to be made about tardigrades and you can be a part of it!

Here is a picture of an actual tardigrade. He's upside down! Can you see his face?

For a fascinating video on the subject, please watch Smithsonian Video on Tardigrades

Green Hover Fly (Ornidia obesa)

The spanish needle (Bidens pilosa) and passion vine (Passiflora incarnata) are taking over the yard lately. Butterflies are everywhere. Tiny long-legged flies and halictid bees flash their bright colors. But nothing matches the metallic grandeur of the green hover fly (Ornidia obesa,) in size and polish. You can almost see yourself reflected.  These large flies seem to love the spanish needle more than any other flower.
Green hover fly

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Story of Cheeto

No character in Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus receives more questions and fan mail than Aunt and Uncle Milligan's dachshund Cheeto. "How did you think of that name?" "Is Cheeto based on a real dog?" "Will Cheeto be in book number two?"  Some perceptive readers notice that I reference Cheeto in the book's dedication:

To Melissa for setting love aloft.
To Cheeto for fierce loyalty.
To my father for quiet fire.
To the bears in the woods
just beyond the highway lights.
So, who exactly is Cheeto? Well, Cheeto is indeed my dog. He was one of five puppies born in rural Florida outside of Thonotosassa in the year 2000. A millennial puppy. Cheeto's dad was a hero. He gave his life protecting the family from a rattlesnake. When I first met Cheeto, he was clearly the ring leader in the family, leading his brothers and sisters on raucous escapades at breakneck speeds. He didn't seem to be a troublemaker at all. He just wanted to have fun!

Cheeto was a red short-haired dachshund. Most dachshunds have a black nose. Not Cheeto. He had a red nose. We named him Cheeto because he was long and red. What a good boy he was! He always wanted to sit on our laps. He loved naps in the sun. And he was always, always ready for adventure.

Here is Cheeto on a mountain adventure. He couldn't wait to walk around in the snow!

Here is Cheeto with his best friend Buttercup on a boat trip!
Cheeto loved Buttercup

The real Cheeto was exactly like the Cheeto in Olivia Brophie. He was very suspicious of people, even people that he knew well. He would spend hours growling under his breath to people he knew for years. But once he opened up to you, he gave you his whole heart.
Cheeto was ever-vigilant. Any unusual sound would be thoroughly investigated. Any doubts would be met with suspicious and persistent barking. Once he supervised me checking out the scene, I would give him the "all clear" and he would go back to relaxing. He was our protector.
At the age of eight, Cheeto developed a rare disease called Chylothorax. Chylothorax is the loss of structural integrity in the membranes surrounding the lungs. The space around the lungs fills with lymphatic fluid causing great difficulty in breathing.  We had to insert long needles into his chest and draw out the lymphatic fluid every couple of days. It was obvious that those needles really hurt Cheeto. The veterinarians said there was nothing we could do, that Cheeto was going to die. But we didn't listen.  We did everything we could to help Cheeto. We found some specialists that have has some success treating Chylothorax and Cheeto went into surgery immediately. They opened his tiny chest and did their best to repair the damage. The surgeons said that his membranes were like "swiss cheese."
Eventually Cheeto came home from the surgery. He was a different dog. He clung to our side. He still kept an eye open for trouble, but he was far less likely to investigate. He only wanted kisses.
Cheeto never fully recovered from the Chylothorax. The damage was just to great. Five month after we found out about his disease, he died in our arms.
Buttercup is still with us. In fact, she is taking a nap next to me as I write this. She is very healthy and the sweetest dog who ever lived.
So, Cheeto now lives on in Olivia Brophie. Doing what he always did. Investigating strangers and going on bold adventures.
If you have any more questions about Cheeto, please email me! I love to answer reader's questions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cassius Blue Butterfly (Leptotes cassius)

The tiny Cassius blue butterfly (Leptotes cassius) is a common butterfly in Florida, but if you don't pay attention you may not see one. Their larva feed on a very common landscaping plant, the plumbago. Plumbago comes in two colors, blue and white. It seems to me that the Cassius blue prefers the white, but they still love the blue which is much easier to find. Grow this sprawling shrub in your yard, and by mid-summer it will be swarming with tiny blue butterflies!
They don't sit still for long, but thankfully this little Cassius blue posed for the camera


Monday, September 3, 2012

Two Spiders

It was a day of spiders. Spider #1 is a female regal jumping spider (Phidippus regius,) the largest jumping spider in the eastern United States.

Spider #2 is a wolf spider